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Coconino Voices: No reason to limit Flagstaff police funding
COCONINO VOICES

Coconino Voices: No reason to limit Flagstaff police funding

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In 2019, the Flagstaff City Council began Priority-Based Budgeting with key community results: high performing government, safe/healthy community, inclusive/engaged community, sustainable/innovative infrastructure, robust/resilient economy, livable community, and environmental stewardship. The City budget is evolving to attain these results.

Last year, the council supported the “Strategic Framework for Truth, Justice and Racial Reconciliation” in partnership with Flagstaff African American Community and Southside Community Association to address deplorable racial conditions affecting the nation. All-inclusive community dialogue about Black Lives and the Lived Experience are facilitated through public forums addressing housing, economics, cultural sensitivity, implicit bias, racial conflict, and countering pervasive anti-Black racism in our midst.

Building unity within our diverse community in continuing dialogue of shared destiny, I supported this endeavor and will continue to do so. The Lived Black Experience initiative can expand into dialogue on lived experiences of Asians/Pacific Islanders of our community.

The purpose of law enforcement in a free society is to provide public safety and uphold the rule of law so that individual liberty may flourish. Flagstaff Police Department’s mission is to protect and preserve life, property, public order, and individual rights, by providing exemplary service and establishing partnership of shared responsibility, support, and trust with law-abiding community members.

By the very nature of their duty, police and firefighters/EMT remain the only entities that consistently respond to every situation where immediate help is needed. Living in Flagstaff for 15 years, I’ve witnessed how highly trained police respond to emergency in a timely, safe, proactive, and compassionate manner while de-escalating a situation. FPD officers are trained on “Fair and Impartial Policing”.

FPD partners with residents by improving public safety, reducing crime by strengthening accountability and transparency, creating educational exchanges such as Citizens' Police Academy, and conducting neighborhood meetings.

Reallocating police funding is not the response to concerns over rogue police actions and deplorable behavior in areas far from Flagstaff. Community policing and improving police training require dedicated resources and enduring commitment from police officers, police unions, community members, and elected leaders. There’s no reason to further limit FPD’s capacity to connect with our community and to provide services to those who are most in need of protection and assistance.

Conversely, it’s imperative to reinstate programs strengthening civic engagement and empowering neighborhoods, such as Neighborhood Watch. The Weed and Seed is a community-based strategy to prevent, control, and reduce violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity. I requested funding for Neighborhood Watch and Weed and Seed and seek Council support on these programs.

Challenges in our criminal justice system are due to years of state/federal budget cuts on mental health, homelessness, substance abuse, recovery, and re-entry programs. However, Flagstaff Municipal and Coconino County Superior Courts have made successful strides with recovery and re-entry programs.

By default, police filled the void created by funding cuts in social services, placing police officers in an untenable position. Meager funding for mental health means police as the only ones left to call to situations where a social worker or mental health professional would be more appropriate. Although our FPD trains officers in crisis intervention and mental health first aid, it doesn’t replace mental care.

Resources are needed to social services, education, housing, and mental health. Fulfilling these needs should not be in lieu of police funding, but rather, increase funding support from state and federal agencies toward these areas.

At the council's budget retreat, we discussed strengthening County-City partnership Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) on a mission to promote safety of citizens; efficient and just treatment for offenders; protection and healing of victims; crime prevention; and reduce recidivism. Council made the unprecedented commitment to institute and fund Alternative Response Model at $776,000/year.

Additionally, I implore the council to support social infrastructure that enhances wellbeing of neighborhoods and furthers economic vitality by providing basic services which allow residents and businesses to thrive. Social infrastructure focused on housing, education/workforce development, transportation, and civic engagement.

I’m grateful for our Police and Fire Departments and their families for their dedication and sacrifices in keeping our community safe and sound. I honor all fallen officers, especially Officer Tyler Stewart. I remember two police officers we lost in the last two years: Officers Daniel Beckwith and Jarrett Shughart, whom I fondly recall providing security for the council.

Regina Salas is a Flagstaff City Council member.

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